Author: Linda Holeman Publication Date: 2004
Number of pages: 376
Geographical Setting/Time Period: 1823-1840; Liverpool, England; Calcutta, India; Kashmir;
- Linnet Gow (aka Linnet Smallpiece, then Linnet Ingram): damaged girl with a strong sense of self.
- Shaker (Geffrey) Smallpiece: good hearted librarian and amateur herbalist with palsied hands who helps Linny escape the streets. F
- aith Vespry (then Snow): Linny’s spirited friend who convinces her to come to India.
- Somers Ingram: Linny’s sadistic husband who shares a secret from the past with her.
- Daoud: Pushtun chief, Linny’s first love.
- David: Linny and Daoud’s child
At age 11, Linnet is sold into prostitution. She works until the age of seventeen, when Shaker befriends her and gives her a new identity as his cousin. Later she accompanies her friend Faith to India. She discovers Somers’ predilections, and he in turn figures out that she is not what she seems either. He threatens to expose her past until she agrees to a marriage of convenience with him. Later, Linny and Faith go on a trip to a far off town, with disastrous results. Linny ends up in Daoud’s comfortable, friendly village in Kashmir. She and Daoud fall in love but he must leave, so she goes back to Calcutta, where she finds she is pregnant with his child. She cleverly convinces Somers that the baby is his, and dulls her senses with opium after the baby is born. Somers puts all the pieces together and figures out who Linny really is, and that they have a terrible connection from the past. He threatens to have her institutionalized to keep all these secrets. The situation looks hopeless, but Linny is a very tough woman.
Appeal: This rather lurid, fast paced novel has rich detail of the Victorian Liverpool underworld, the British Raj era of India, and the landscape and social customs of same. The characters are intriguing, human and flawed. The people we care the most about change somewhat for the better over the course of the story. The novel combines historical detail and an engaging if somewhat predictable plot with a small amount of intense romance.
Brief Quote: “Everywhere, brilliant colors swarmed; I had to close my eyes for a moment to distinguish what I was seeing. Women’s saris in bright pink, orange and red, carts heaped with unfamiliar fruit and vegetables. Dark faces under white turbans. As we drew nearer the pier, I breathed in scents I couldn’t identify but which I was sure, from my reading, must be jasmine, sandalwood, cloves and ginger. But there was something else. Underneath it all there was a foetid, cloying odor, of urine, dirt and decay, A deep smell of rot that I recognized from the seeping cellars in Liverpool’s meanest courts” (p149).
Similar Works: The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber is also a vividly detailed historical fiction about Victorian society and underworld with a very sympathetic main character. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters takes place in the same era among the same kind of people, but is more of a gothic/mystery. The Observations by Jane Harris is also a mysterious Victorian novel.
Reviewer: Alexis Whitney